Updated: May 18, 2020
This past Saturday, I spent the day in Tijuana with Global Immersion. We were there to learn from and show solidarity with both the migrants who are awaiting their turn to apply for asylum in the US and the locals in Tijuana who are responding to the needs of the migrants. It was overwhelming, heartbreaking, and inspiring all at the same time. I want to share a couple of the stories I heard and what I experienced on that day.
Ingrid is from Honduras. She is the single mother of a teenage daughter. While living in Honduras, Ingrid’s daughter was kidnapped and held for three days. Once her daughter was returned to her, she knew they couldn’t stay there. It wasn’t safe to report the crime, and she wanted to do what she could to protect her daughter. Ingrid didn’t have the money to leave her country right away so she hid her daughter in their home while she worked as hard as she could to save up money. As soon as they were able, they left Honduras and headed to Mexico. When they arrived in southern Mexico, they requested asylum from the Mexican government but were denied. They stayed where they were for several months, trying to figure out what to do. Ingrid just wanted a safe place to live and an opportunity to work legally. When it looked like that wouldn’t be possible where they were, they headed to Tijuana in hopes of applying for asylum at the US border. They are currently staying in a shelter in Tijuana while they try to figure out what’s next. As Ingrid shared her story, her daughter stood next to her in tears, reliving the trauma of the kidnapping and all that had happened since. Ingrid said that her greatest hope is for her daughter to overcome the trauma and get rid of the fear. She wants her to daughter to be safe and free. She can’t go back to Honduras, she hasn’t been able to legalize in Mexico, and her chances of being granted asylum in the US are slim.
Jose Antonio is the pastor of a small church in Tijuana. A couple years ago while he was driving home from work, he was stopped at a traffic light and saw an image in his rear view mirror. A couple with a baby stepped out of a taxi and looked around in bewilderment. It was clear that they weren’t from around there, and they had no idea where they were going. As a city of migrants, this is a common occurrence in Tijuana. People move north to Tijuana in hopes of making it to the US or they move south from the US when they are deported. At this particular time, there were thousands of Haitians who had arrived in the city. For some reason, Pastor Jose couldn’t get the image of this particular couple out of his head. He thought about the church building he worked in. It wasn’t big but it was empty most days of the week. He told his congregation, “There are people who don’t have a place to sleep. We have space. Let’s use it.” The congregation agreed and they went out, found some of the migrants who were sleeping on the street, and invited them to stay at the church. This year as caravans of migrants have arrived in Tijuana from Central America, this church has opened up their doors once again. They don’t have a lot of resources, but they offer what they can. The church members help out in the kitchen or take care of administrative roles. And people from the local community donate food and needed supplies. When everyone brings what they have, they find that it’s enough. There are currently 40 migrants living in the classrooms of this church, and they have started construction on a proper shelter so that they can house more than 100 migrants at a time in a space that upholds their dignity.
Friendship Park is an area between two fences at the Tijuana-San Diego border. It was
dedicated by Pat Nixon (former First Lady) in 1971 as a place to celebrate bi-national friendship. At the time, people from both sides of the border could come to the park and enjoy time together. Throughout the years, more and more limitations have been created in this space. To parallel fences have been constructed on either side of Friendship Park. People are only allowed to enter the area at specific times, and it is becoming less and less frequent. The number of people allowed at one time has decreased drastically. And where people were once able to embrace, now they are only able to touch fingers through the metal mesh that has been added. The barriers between the people of these two nations continue to multiply.
It was in this space that we celebrated La Posada Sin Fronteras (The Inn without Borders). A posada is a tradition that is celebrated in Mexico every year at Christmas time as a reminder of the experience that Joseph and Mary had in Bethlehem as they sought shelter. Every year for the past 25 years, people from both sides of the border have gathered at Friendship Park to celebrate La Posada together. The area in between the walls has been opened up so that people from the US side can come right up to the primary fence and touch fingers with their neighbors on the Mexico side as they sing the traditional song and remember the sacred journey. This year, the Border Patrol decided not to open up the area in between, so there was a large divide between the people on the US side and those of us on the Mexico side. Unable to touch and barely able to hear one another, we sang the traditional call-and-response song across the divide. As we contemplated Mary and Joseph looking for shelter in their time of need and being refused at every door, it took on new significance as we considered the migrants who have fled tragic circumstances in desperate search of refuge, only to be rejected at every border.
Immigration is a complicated issue. There are a lot of factors at play, but it is important to remember that it is not just a political issue. It is a very human issue. There are people, millions of people, around the world who have left their homes fleeing violence, political instability, economic crises, persecution, and the effects of natural disasters. Each person has a unique story, but one thing that so many have in common is the desperation to find refuge, to find a place where they can live and work freely, where they can provide for and protect their families.
Right now, there are thousands of people waiting at our southern border for an opportunity to legally plead their case and seek asylum. We can choose to build up more and more barriers to keep them out so that we feel safer. Or we can look on them with compassion. We can seek to understand. We can choose to see the image of Christ, who was a refugee himself, in the face of each migrant. We can offer what we have, no matter how little it may be, and trust God that there will always be enough to go around. We are in the midst of a significant moment in history. This is an opportunity to consider our understanding of who God is, what he has done for each and every one of us, and how he has called us to live in response to that.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. – 1 John 3:16-18
Here are some resources that Global Immersion gave us to provide some context to the situation before we arrived in Tijuana…
The Central American Caravanners Have a Right to Plead Their Case
The tear gas is gone. But in this shelter at the border, the situation is getting worse (Note: Thousands of migrants have since been moved to an indoor shelter due to the heavy rains, but the conditions in the new shelter are still not good.)
Here are some ways to respond to the migrant caravan and the current humanitarian crisis (also provided by Global Immersion)…
Read through A Prayer for Migrants and Refugees from Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw
Donate to Global Immersion to support sustainable, long term work in Tijuana, including immediate response to the caravan
Sign on to this letter asking Border Patrol to increase the number of asylum seekers being processed daily and then share the letter with your representatives.
Sign the Statement of Principles from the Evangelical Immigration Table and ask your pastor to do the same.
Call your Representative and Senators (whoismyrepresentative.com) and the White House Comment Line (202-456-1111), urging them to address the humanitarian crisis by:
Increasing the number of asylum seekers processed every day from less than 100 to 300 at each port of entry
Addressing trade and foreign policy issues in Central America that have led to the crisis
Working in a bi-partisan fashion to pass comprehensive immigration reform
Join National Immigration Forum’s email list to stay informed on current policy issues and how to engage.